Duodenal ulcer symptoms

Updated July 19, 2017

A duodenal ulcer is a type of peptic ulcer. Duodenal ulcers occur in the first part of the small intestine called the duodenum. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, 1 in 10 Americans will develop an ulcer in their lifetime. While ulcers are rare in children, they can occur at any age. Duodenal ulcers are more common in men than in women. If discovered early, duodenal ulcers can be treated and recurrence can be prevented. Untreated duodenal ulcers can have serious and damaging effects.


The duodenum is responsible for regulating how fast your stomach empties and for breaking down the food you have eaten. Food is broken down by corrosive digestive acids and enzymes. Your small intestine has natural protection against digestive acids. Duodenal ulcers form when your intestine's protective process breaks down and the lining becomes inflamed. Duodenal ulcers are open sores, or lesions, that form when the intestinal lining is exposed to digestive acids.


The most common cause of duodenal ulcers is an infection caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). This infection causes your small intestine to become inflamed and the intestine lining to become damaged.Other risk factors that may contribute to a duodenal ulcer are excessive alcohol consumption, regular use of aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen, smoking, using chew tobacco and a family history of ulcers.


If you have a small duodenal ulcer you may not experience any symptoms. Abdominal pain is a common symptom but not always present. Other symptoms can include belching, fatigue, heartburn, indigestion, chest pain, weight loss, nausea, vomiting and bloody stools. Symptoms vary by person so see your doctor if you are concerned.


Large duodenal ulcers or ulcers that have caused a hole in the intestine can cause internal bleeding. Obstructions at the opening of the stomach and intestine can also occur. Duodenal ulcers can cause inflammation in tissues lining the abdominal walls. If the intestine is perforated the acid can leak out and cause damage to surrounding organs. Perforations need immediate medical attention to control internal bleeding and limit damage to other organs.


Avoid drugs that can cause ulcers. If you take aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen on a regular basis discuss the risk of ulcers with your doctor. Do not smoke or chew tobacco. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake. Limit or avoid foods that cause you heartburn or indigestion.


If you have a duodenal ulcer you will need to make lifestyle changes to help control your digestive acid. If your ulcer was caused by a bacterium following your doctor's orders will ensure that the infection is cured. Medications are available that help heal ulcers and control digestive acid production. For serious ulcers not helped by medication, surgery is an option. Surgery is performed to repair the holes ulcers create in the lining of the intestine. Ulcers can come back if left untreated. Following your doctor's orders can reduce the chance that your ulcer will return.

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About the Author

Mary Anne Ott is a cancer patient navigator in Ohio. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Wright State University. Ott worked in the banking industry for six years as a personal banker and assistant branch manager before pursuing a career in health care.